March 30, 2020
A few days ago, my two-year-old daughter stood at the window that overlooks the park next to our apartment. After a long time, she exclaimed, “There’s Hayes, bouncing a ball!” Was she pretending? Was she trying to convince me to take her outside? “There’s Linden and Bob!” she cried, her voice almost desperate. I went over to the window, crouched next to her, and looked into the empty park. Someone had taken down the handmade sign that read, in large letters, “Stay Out!! You are Endangering Your Neighbors Lives!!!” They had padlocked the gate instead.
What does she know? How much does she need to understand? The day after the colleges closed, and the NBA season was suspended, and workers around the country were sent home, three of her animals—Owl, Little Puppy, and Tiny Little Barbar—came down with fevers. Yesterday, she asked me to take her swimming, and when I air-swam around the room, she sighed and said, “In a pool.” She tells me that her grandparents are coming to visit next week. She looks at her clean hands and tells me they’re dirty. Last night she woke me with her screams and, for the first time, did not come to the edge of her crib when I came in. She lay crying in a heap, oblivious to me, or indifferent, or perhaps aware that I couldn’t always help her.
She asks to call friends of mine she’s never met in person or can’t possibly remember. She chats with Colby in Montana, and Loulou in Iowa. “Call Carla,” she orders me, and cries when Carla doesn’t answer. She tells me she wants to talk to Jamie’s dog. It relieves me, and unnerves me, how quickly and naturally she’s taken to FaceTiming. Sometimes, she says, “Hug!” and clutches the phone to her chest. She does not quite seem to register the difference.
Among the strangest things about this pandemic is that I am not so worried about my daughter’s health—less worried, even, than I usually am. They say that children aren’t as vulnerable, that they are silent vectors. (Then again, they say a lot of things.) I am worried about the warping of her world, and what might happen to her if I get sick. But I am more worried about my mother.
My mother is worried about her mother. Later that day—the day my daughter stood at the window, on the threshold between her two realities—my mother went to my grandmother’s assisted living home. The facility had stopped allowing visitors a while ago, but they made an exception for my mother. It was my grandmother’s 98th birthday, and she is dying; she won’t survive the quarantine. Still, it made me angry. “It would be a catastrophe if you brought the virus into the nursing home,” I told my mother. I leaned on the word catastrophe. I didn’t say but I thought, It would be a catastrophe if you brought the virus into your home.
When my daughter was nine weeks old, she caught a cold, and the cold got worse. Her breath became a distant whistle. My husband and I took her to the emergency room at Children’s Hospital. They threaded a little suction tube down her nose and sucked the mucus out of her chest, and when her breathing improved, they sent us home. The next morning my husband went to Pennsylvania for work. That night, her breathing was ragged again, and by morning she was struggling even to cry. I called her pediatrician, who told me to bring her into the office when it opened. I called my mother, who got on a plane. We went straight to the emergency room as soon as she landed. This time, the nurse used the word “triage.” Doctors put a tiny cannula into her nostrils, but her oxygen kept dropping. They fit her with a little BiPAP oxygen mask and sent her to the pediatric intensive care unit, where she lay in a nest of wires. I was told I couldn’t feed her because she might need to be intubated, put on a ventilator. We were there for five days. I slept on the window seat. My mother brought me sandwiches from the Au Bon Pain downstairs.
On the phone the other day, I told my mother that we’ll only survive as a society if we all follow the rules. None of us is special. “But I’m her daughter,” my mother said to me, as if helpless to the fact. I replied, “But I’m a daughter too.”
In lieu of payment, our friends and contributors to the Corona Correspondences are dedicating donations to nonprofits and independent businesses in their communities. Thomas’s contribution will be directed to Boston Children's Hospital.